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Worker who applied for job can sue over conditions

Over dissent by Alito, justices decline request to find action is barred

DETROIT — The U.S. Supreme Court said Monday it won’t stop a lawsuit by a southwestern Michigan road worker who complained about the conditions of a noisy, dirty job that he wanted.

The court let stand a 2014 decision by an appeals court, which found Robert Deleon, who is Hispanic, can pursue a claim of discrimination against the Kalamazoo County Road Commission.

Justice Samuel Alito, the lone dissenter, wanted the Supreme Court to take the case. He said it sets a bad precedent in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee, the states covered by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“An old maxim warns: Be careful what you wish for; you might receive it,” Alito said. “In the 6th Circuit, however, employees need not be careful what they ask for because, if their request is granted and they encounter buyer’s regret, they can sue.”

Deleon was passed over as equipment superintendent before the road commission put him in the job in 2009 when others bowed out. He lasted less than a year due to tension with his superiors and health problems.

He said he was repeatedly blowing black soot from his nostrils and regularly wiping it out of his garage office. He had bronchitis and headaches.

Appeals Judge Damon Keith said it’s plausible that Deleon was set up to fail, and it made no difference that he had formerly applied for the job.

But Alito said the 2-1 decision by the appeals court is “unprecedented and clearly contrary” to laws that form the basis for Deleon’s lawsuit.

The case now returns to federal court in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Deleon went on a medical leave in 2010 and didn’t return to work.